Sermon preached at Palm UMC, Dinuba, CA on August 5, 2018 by Pastor Michelle Magee
John 6:1-13, 35
Have you ever had God surprise you by providing for you, even before you asked? Have you ever experienced that abundant gift, filling you before you even knew you were hungry?
I asked myself that question, and I have two little stories to share with you; one from 18 years ago, one from two days ago.
First, in the year 2000 when I was in college, I went to Mexico to study for a semester. Part of my routine was walking a few of the blocks of the city Puebla several times a week. And there was an indigenous lady who would sit on a certain corner of sidewalk and sell a few snacks and gum spread on a blanket. After a few weeks I started saying good afternoon to her when I passed. A couple of times I bought a little something but I usually did not. But, I knew that on the scale of social hierarchy- every society has its discriminations and systems-, this woman was near the bottom. Female, indigenous, not begging but selling just on the sidewalk, one could easily deduce she was pretty poor. While I was a white American with enough privilege to be attending university and able to travel to another country. I knew I could not change her circumstances but wanted to share at least that, a greeting in passing. This went on for a couple of months, then my time there was coming to an end. I wasn’t sure if she would realize that I had left or maybe wonder what had happened to me, so I stopped on my last day and explained in my broken Spanish that I wouldn’t be coming by anymore. She got up from the sidewalk and embraced me, kissed my cheek, and thanked me for noticing her every day. She pressed some of her precious wares into my hand and would not accept payment, and she said may God bless you. I was so humbled to receive such a gift from someone who had almost nothing, that moment touched my soul deeply and I remember her often. That small gift filled not my stomach but my heart, and God was in the midst of it.
Another story, maybe simpler- but this last week we ran out of tomatoes. I knew the Thursday night market in Hanford would have Farmer’s Market tomatoes, so much better than the grocery store ones. So even though I went to the store on Thursday, I did not buy tomatoes because I was waiting to get the good ones at the market. But we got to the market a little later than planned, and the band was an 80s cover band which was so good, so we sat in the grass and listened and ate some food and I was dancing a little and all of the sudden it was over and when I thought we could go grab some tomatoes on the way out- all the stands had already packed up and left. So I was disappointed. Then Friday morning I took my kids to the park for a little bit and planned to go to the library form there but then remembered on Fridays the library doesn’t open until noon and it was only 11 so I thought about what we could do and remembered the storybook garden museum right by the library and I had heard it was pretty good. So we went there. But by the time I had remembered and gotten there it was 11:30 and the lady in charge heard us talking about the entrance fee and said, oh no be our guests today you don’t have much time to look at anything, we close at 12- but the first thing she instructed my children to do was- pick some free tomatoes from the garden. Free entrance, free tomatoes.
And they did. And they enjoyed the little play houses with storybook themes and had a grand time and we took home probably a pound and a half of different sized, garden picked tomatoes. I thought I would just do without for a few more days but no, God surprised me by providing even beyond what I needed.
The generosity of strangers, the sharing of food. God is in our midst in these holy moments.
The feeding of the multitudes is one of the few stories present in all four gospels. Each gospel tells the story a little bit differently. In this one, Jesus crosses the Sea of Galilee. To exactly where, we don’t know. He could be within the region of Galilee still, or he could have crossed to Gentile territory. To the place chiefly of another culture, another religion, another people. Or maybe not. There’s lots of ways to cross a big lake. And we 2000 years later, like to try to separate out here’s where the Jews lived, here’s where the Greeks lived, here’s where the Samaritans lived, and in the broad sense that is knowable- but it’s also true that the ancient peoples had been invading one another and living together in peace and marrying one another for centuries to different degrees -so sometimes it’s good to remember that Jesus, too, lived in a multicultural place and time.
Great crowds are already following Jesus because of the way he had been healing people. Jesus in many healing stories of the gospels will first ask someone, what do you want me to do for you? But in this case he knows the hunger of the people because probably his own tummy is rumbling. It’s that time of day and everyone is hungry-Jews or Gentiles, everyone gets hungry. He starts discussing the situation with his disciples. He puts the need out there. Philip is sure that there is no way to feed these people, 8 months wages wouldn’t be enough. But Andrew, even though it seems like so little in the face of the need, tells Jesus that a child has offered five barley loaves and two small fish. Philip starts from what they don’t have. Andrew starts from what they do have, even though it doesn’t seem to be enough, not anywhere near enough…
Jesus takes that small offering of a child, thanks God for it- and you know what happens. Jesus serves everyone, and somehow everyone eats. Everyone is satisfied. There are even 12 whole baskets of leftovers. They share food and they know, God is in their midst.
In John chapter 6, this happens, and then Jesus talks, and talks, and talks about it for the rest of the rather long chapter. And in that talking comes this pronouncement, Jesus says: I am the Bread of life. We know this to be true- there are ways that Jesus satisfies us! even though we still need to consume calories and liquids, there is a filling that comes from knowing Christ in our lives, it is a miracle. I asked at the beginning and if you have a story – I hope you will tell me, today or another day, of when God surprised you and provided for you, a time you have experienced an abundant gift you did not even know was coming.
Today we will celebrate Holy Communion, and physically eat a small taste of earthly bread, which by faith we know is a way of experiencing Jesus Christ coming into us. That too is a miracle. I don’t have words today to go into that- well at communion time we tell the story of all God has done and why this is important to do- but I hope you have that experience, maybe not every single time you take communion, because it can’t be forced, but now and again to experience all over again, God’s amazing grace, and know that God coming to us in the Holy Supper is indeed a miracle.
As we begin our time together brothers and sisters, we celebrate the faith we all have in common, I will be taking time to get to know all of you, but we also know there are challenges ahead for us. I don’t have DS Debra’s letter of expectations yet, but I know that in it will be mentioned the challenge of reaching out to our neighbors here whose demographics are not reflected in the congregation. As Aiko mentioned when I was at her Bible study on Wednesday, we need to work on how we reach out to those who live in the area surrounding this building, I’m speaking of our immediate neighbors, many of whom are Latino or Hispanic. At the same time we have our own multicultural understanding to navigate.
But what sticks out to me in this Bible story and the stories I told you before, is how this is a part of the human experience- we all have a need for one another. We have a need to share what we have. Even when it’s supposed to be a transactional relationship- you pay me this for that- we have these God moments of receiving what we do not pay for. That older woman on the corner of streets in Puebla, another woman not so poor, the little boy in the story, offer what they have as a gift- and God shows up and we are all filled. These are miracles of God becoming present in our midst as we share ourselves with one another, with the blessing of Jesus.
So yes I chose two sermon titles today- yes Jesus is the bread of life. We receive in abundance from his never ending grace and love and it fills us without being able to understand it sometimes- Jesus fills us in that amazing way.
But also, when we think together about the challenges of the congregation, let’s not start with what we don’t have. Let’s start with what we do have. What’ve you got, that you can share? Sisters and brothers: If we put it in Jesus’ hands, there can be miracles. Amen.